More than 160 ESCA members, employee-owners, and guests turned out for last week’s successful Federal Policy Conference and Lobby Day in Washington D.C.
 A few key updates from those jam-packed days:
• House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA-23) opened Wednesday’s reception, talking about the value of entrepreneurship and his support for the ESOP model.  He praised the S ESOP structure for “incredibly low loan-default rates, billions of dollars in distributions, and ability to weather economic downturns better than non-S ESOP companies.”  Stressing that he believes employee ownership is not a partisan issues, Leader McCarthy also said that with nearly two-thirds of Republican House members being new to Congress (they’ve been there fewer than five years), it’s vital to share with the members of his conference the positive attributes of S ESOPs. He stressed the need for ESCA members to remain engaged and communicate personal stories with their members of Congress, and remain steadfast in highlighting the positive aspects of working at an employee-owned business.
• On Thursday morning, ESCA Board Chair Steve Smith (Vice President and General Counsel of Amsted Industries) officially welcomed attendees and recognized Principal Financial as the anchor sponsor of the conference, together with other sponsors.
• ESCA President & Executive Director Stephanie Silverman set the stage with a political update looking at the current climate in Washington, detailing the packed agenda Congress has this fall to meet deadlines to fund the federal government, raise the debt ceiling, and extend transportation funding. Given all that Congress needs to get done in such a short time, and the looming presidential election, Stephanie mentioned it’s unlikely Congress will be able to tackle tax reform anytime soon. However, she did point out that the underlying economic factors – decreasing revenues, rising deficits, and historic debt that is greater than GDP – will eventually force Congress to find new sources of revenue. Given this and other federal initiatives that may not favor S ESOP interests in the near term, she made clear ESCA will remain vigilant and engaged through this Congress.
• Conference attendees also had the opportunity to hear from two influential members of Congress who sit on important Senate and House tax-writing committees:  Finance Committee member and Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Ways and Means member and Congressman Charles Boustany (R-LA-3). Both are original sponsors of our S ESOP protection and promotion bills (S. 1212/H.R. 2096).
• Senator Cardin was focused on his goal of finding opportunities to move parts of our S ESOP legislation forward in the Senate, which will require a viable tax vehicle.  He was unflinching in his support for S ESOPs, citing some of the data in earlier ESCA studies as proof of the value that S ESOPs offer on several economic levels. Cardin, who is considered a patron of modern day pension statutes, also stressed that S ESOPs are part of the solution to the dearth in American retirement savings.
• After being introduced by the CEO of our longtime member Acadian Ambulance, Congressman Boustany echoed some of McCarthy’s comments, encouraging ESCA members to communicate the S ESOP message to their elected officials through district visits to company facilities and job sites back home to protect this structure from harm and advance supportive legislation. While Boustany said tax reform isn’t likely this Congress, he talked about Congress’ blueprinting process and noted that important planning work is being done for the tax reform efforts that are more likely to gain steam in 2017 and beyond.
• Thursday afternoon and Friday morning, 120 employee-owners from ESCA member companies hit Capitol Hill for more than 130 Congressional office visits (covering 35 states) to advocate for advancing the S ESOP protection and promotion bill.  The visits were an opportunity for conference participants to ask their Members of Congress to cosponsor our legislation in the House and Senate and to invite those Members to visit S ESOP companies back home to give them a deeper sense of the retirement savings, job creation, and economic security benefits afforded through employee ownership in their hometowns.
• Meanwhile, ESCA’s professional members used the time to meet with officials from the Department of Labor, Department of Treasury and the IRS to consider current regulatory issues facing S ESOP companies.
ESCA staff appreciate the time all of our members dedicated to participating in this event. There’s much follow-up for us to do, so stay tuned as we contact the Congressional offices many of you saw to follow up on cosponsorship and district events. We will also be sending regular updates about all of the new bill cosponsors resulting from your meetings.
If you were unable to attend and would like to visit with your congressional offices, please be in touch with Matt Pearce ( mpearce@vennstrategies.com), as we’d be happy to set up a “mini” lobby day for you and your colleagues in 2015/2016.